Free Press Journal

Anna and the curious case of Lokpal Bill

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DESPITE the nation-wide outcry against corruption and Hazare’s campaign for appointment of Lokpal, corruption continues to thrive. Anna said recently that he still receives complaints from citizens across the country on corruption.

It is ironical that Aam Aadmi Party supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, a progeny of “India Against Corruption” campaign of 2011-2013, has been accused of corruption by a section of his own party colleagues. And it is an irony that none other than his own mentor Anna Hazare, who spearheaded the anti-graft movement, has threatened Kejriwal with an agitation if he got concrete evidence of wrongdoing against AAP ministers. AAP’s image has taken a beating in the wake of money laundering charges against it by suspended minister Kapil Mishra. Despite the nation-wide outcry against corruption and Hazare’s campaign for appointment of Lokpal (anti-graft Ombudsman), corruption continues to thrive. Anna said recently that he still receives complaints from citizens across the country on corruption.

The Modi government has been proactive in pursuing corruption cases. Many politicos have come under the radar of investigating agencies – Lalu Yadav, Bhupinder Hooda, Virbhadra Singh, Harish Rawat, Robert Vadra, Kartik Chidambaram,  YSR Congress leader Jagmohan Reddy, ADMK leaders Sasikala and Dinakaran and Trinamool Congress leaders, to mention a few. In addition, the multi-crore Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh which saw some 40-odd mysterious deaths and the IPL scandal involving certain Rajasthan leaders are under tardy investigation. In the coming months some Karnataka leaders are also likely to come under the IT/ED lens.


Kejriwal and Andhra CM Chandrababu Naidu are latest on the sleaze bloc. Grapevine has it that recently Jagmohan Reddy called on PM Narendra Modi and inter alia asked him to probe “corruption” charges against Naidu (an NDA ally), a demand Modi can ill-afford to meet. Pots may be calling kettles black. Nevertheless, what is galling is that there is no sign yet of Hazare and Lokpal. The nation too, apparently, does not want to know why the government has been pussy-footing such a seminal law last three years on flimsy grounds even as it is vigorously chasing “corrupt” Opposition leaders.

The bill to constitute the statutory body to inquire into allegations of corruption against certain public functionaries was cleared by the Lok Sabha in early 2014. According to the Lokpal Act, the chairperson and members shall be appointed by the President on the basis of recommendations of the selection committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Leader of Opposition, the Chief Justice of India or his nominee. The bill was hurriedly passed in the Lok Sabha as back as in December 2011 as Hazare gave an ultimatum to the then UPA government, but it was referred to a select committee for scrutiny as BJP raised some objections and sought further discussion. The bill languished for over two years and after much dithering Parliament passed it in July 2016 incorporating an amendment. However, the law is yet to become operational due to a technical hitch – absence of leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, a mandated member in the selection panel. The government could have solved this glitch by just changing the words “LoP” to “the largest opposition party”. Hitherto, the Centre has been arguing that the selection panel could not be constituted in the absence of a leader of the Opposition in Parliament. Unless the panel meets and selects the Lokpal, it will just remain an Act of Parliament.

Last month, while hearing a PIL by lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan-led Common Cause challenging the constitutionality of the search committee rules for appointment of Lokpal, the Supreme Court had observed that “if the LoP is not available, the chairperson and the other two members of the selection committee may proceed to appoint an eminent jurist as a member of the selection panel.”

The BJP, which came to power riding on the country-wide anti-corruption mood, has been inexplicably slow in appointing the Lokpal.  And for some curious reasons Hazare too has been silent for almost three years barring occasional outbursts. The saffron party has been vociferously demanding Lokpal when in Opposition. On March 29, Hazare threatened to launch an agitation in Delhi for Lokpal. Talking to media persons in Ahmednagar, he said no party wants to execute it because they are scared of losing power. Modi government “continues to be corrupt despite all promises,” Hazare alleged. “I wrote 40 letters to Manmohan Singh and got a reply for 20. I wrote several letters to Narendra Modi but did not receive a single reply”, he lamented. The anti-graft crusader said non-implementation of the Lokpal is a great insult to the sentiment of the people.

In sharp contrast, between 2011 and 2013, Hazare was rigid and unyielding on his demand for an instant Lokpal. He staged a sit-in at capital’s Jantar Mantar in April 2011 and mobilized huge crowds and resources for the anti-graft Ombudsman. The build-up was such that media quoted Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief late Ashok Singhal as saying that his organization fed over 20000 people who had gathered at Ramlila grounds during Anna’s fast while, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said the Sangh Pariwar actively participated in the Hazare-led anti-corruption agitation. A stung Hazare even campaigned against the Congress candidate in the Hissar Lok Sabha by-election. He released a ten-minute CD exhorting voters “to defeat the Congress as it has failed to bring Jan Lokpal bill.”

It is a million dollar question if Modi will risk appointing the Lokpal, who will have overwhelming powers to scrutinise the government, before his term of his government ends in 2019. Last year, the apex court while asking the Attorney General about the delay, observed: “When you say the Government is committed to cleansing the corruption, and then this Lokpal is a step in right direction, why should there be a feeling that the Government is dragging its feet?” That begs the question why crusader Hazare, is lenient towards Modi government? Or is it because he fears that with BJP in power, a second edition of the anti-corruption movement may turn out to be a flop-show?

 

The author is an independent journalist.